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Researchers developing 'revolutionary' multi-material for light-based 3D printing
This illustration shows a single resin producing two materials with different properties during light-based 3D printing. Larger illustration. Figure contributed by Adarsh Krishnamurthy.
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Researchers developing 'revolutionary' multi-material for light-based 3D printing
by Staff Writers
Ames IA (SPX) Oct 19, 2023

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) is looking for materials that "revolutionize and engineer our future." Researchers at Iowa State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara think they can do just that by fundamentally changing Digital Light Processing - a type of 3D printing that users light rather than heat to quickly cure and harden liquid resin into plastic layers - to enable multi-material printing.

"We want to produce two material properties with the same resin," said Adarsh Krishnamurthy, an associate professor of mechanical engineering and leader of the project at Iowa State. "That's revolutionary in terms of materials for 3D printing."

The researchers are using their expertise in materials chemistry, computational science, machine learning and materials characterization to find resins that, when exposed to different wavelengths of light, will solidify with different properties.

So, with one material, Digital Light Processing 3D printers could create products that are rigid in some places and flexible in others.

New materials for national needs
The project is one of 37 that NSF announced in September as part of a four-year, $72.5 million investment to "create novel materials to address grand societal challenges and develop the scientific and engineering workforce of tomorrow." The effort is part of the federal, multi-agency Materials Genome Initiative that's focused on quickly advancing materials invention and use.

"By integrating numerous research disciplines across NSF as well as federal and industrial partnerships, this program truly revolutionizes the design, discovery and development of new materials for addressing urgent national needs," said Sethuraman Panchanathan, director of the NSF.

The program awarded Iowa State researchers $800,000 to use artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to help develop new resins which can be printed with different properties. Krishnamurthy said the Iowa State team's experience with machine learning tools will help the researchers evaluate options and quickly identify potential materials.

The program also awarded UCSB researchers $1.1 million for their share of the project. Led by Michael Chabinyc, a professor of materials, the UCSB researchers will focus their work on polymer chemistry.

Krishnamurthy said the Iowa State and UCSB researchers will focus their efforts on building special biomedical platforms with structured surfaces of varying stiffnesses that can promote and direct the growth of cell cultures.

Currently, such cultures are grown on hard glass or a soft silicon polymer.

"But that's not how the body is," Krishnamurthy said. "The body has both - hard bone and soft tissue. The different stiffnesses promote better cell growth."

Computing material improvements
In addition to printing and testing actual materials, the researchers will develop a "digital twin" of the system. They can use this to simulate and predict how different resins will respond to a spectrum of light wavelengths and exposures.

Machine learning tools will also save the researchers tedious, time-consuming lab work by trimming the list of potential resins suitable for study and development.

In addition, the researchers will use a machine learning technique called reinforcement learning to make sure advances in experiments or theories lead to overall advancements of multi-material, light-based 3D printing.

All that computational science can help the Iowa State-UCSB team advance the Materials Genome Initiative's goal of "discovering, manufacturing, and deploying advanced materials twice as fast and at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional methods."

ai.energy-daily.com analysis

Relevance Scores:

1. Additive Manufacturing Industry Analyst: 9/10
2. Stock and Finance Market Analyst: 8/10
3. Government Policy Analyst: 7/10

Analyst Summary:

Main Points:

The article outlines an innovative project spearheaded by researchers at Iowa State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The project is aimed at revolutionizing Digital Light Processing (DLP) 3D printing by developing resins that can harden with different properties under varying wavelengths of light. Funded as part of the U.S. National Science Foundation's (NSF) broader Materials Genome Initiative, the research has implications for creating biomedical platforms and potentially for broader manufacturing needs.

Additive Manufacturing:

The research targets a core limitation in additive manufacturing: the ability to print with multi-material properties. If successful, the technique could revolutionize not just DLP but potentially other 3D printing modalities.

Stock and Finance Markets:

Given the potential revolutionary impact on additive manufacturing, companies specializing in 3D printing, resin manufacturing, or related computational technologies could see a significant shift in market valuation.

Government Policy:

The NSF's commitment, part of a four-year, $72.5 million initiative, indicates the federal government's strategy in fast-tracking materials science as a national priority. Such developments could affect policy on innovation, healthcare, and manufacturing.

Future Impact:

Over the last 25 years, additive manufacturing has transitioned from rapid prototyping to functional part fabrication, yet the sector has been largely monomaterial. The research correlates with the industry's desire for more advanced materials and multi-material capabilities. Should this NSF-funded project be successful, it would be a landmark achievement, altering the scope of applications and even initiating a new phase in the industry's evolution.

Comparative Analysis:

The trend in additive manufacturing has been one of incremental improvements in materials and processes. The focus has gradually shifted from plastics to metals and more recently to biocompatible materials for healthcare applications. However, the concept of using a single resin to achieve multi-material properties through light modulation aligns more with a revolutionary jump than an incremental shift.

Investigative Questions:

1. How will the development of multi-property resins disrupt the current supply chain in additive manufacturing?

2. What are the commercialization plans for the developed resins and techniques?

3. What legal frameworks or patents could potentially impede or accelerate the commercial application of this technology?

4. How could the government's Materials Genome Initiative be impacted by the success or failure of this project?

5. How could other sectors like automotive or aerospace benefit from these advancements in 3D printing materials?

This article encapsulates the confluence of research disciplines, public policy, and market implications, and is of high relevance across all analyzed sectors.

Related Links
Iowa State University
Space Technology News - Applications and Research

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